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Original title: Aus dem Nichts

D: Fatih Akin / 106m

Cast: Diane Kruger, Denis Moschitto, Henning Peker, Johannes Krisch, Samia Muriel Chancrin, Numan Acar, Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Brandhoff, Ulrich Tukur, Yannis Economides, Rafael Santana

Katja (Kruger) is married to reformed Kurdish drug dealer Nuri (Acar), and they have a precocious six year old son, Rocco (Santana). Having put his criminal past behind him, Nuri runs a small travel agency in Hamburg. One day, Katja drops off Rocco at Nuri’s office and heads off to meet her best friend, Birgit (Chancrin). When she returns later to meet them, she finds that a nail bomb has gone off outside the office and Nuri and Rocco have both been killed. She identifies a woman (Hilsdorf) she saw earlier who left a bike outside the office, and eventually the woman is identified as a Neo-Nazi, and with her husband (Brandhoff), is arrested and charged with the bombing. A trial ensues, but despite the best efforts of Katja’s lawyer, Danilo (Moschitto), enough doubt is raised about the couple’s guilt that the court is forced to acquit them. Distraught by this unexpected decision, Katja retreats into despair, until an idea presents itself as to how she can avenge the deaths of her son and husband…

Taking the 2004 Cologne bombing as its inspiration, which also saw Neo-Nazis detonating a nail bomb in a busy commercial street, In the Fade is a stylish and fascinating thriller that is also a tough, uncompromising examination of one woman’s grief in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy. Featuring a superb performance from Kruger, the movie paints an uncomfortable picture of both the emotional despair that Katja feels and the physical impact it has on her as well. Katja’s bright, confident manner in the movie’s opening scenes is soon replaced by a withdrawn, cynical veneer that (barely) hides the pain that she’s feeling. Even the drugs she takes to help her cope (a decision that has dire consequences later on) aren’t enough to numb the sadness that she’s feeling. As the trial steers ever closer to its unhappy conclusion, Katja’s anger at the injustice that’s taking place builds and builds, and remains in waiting as she recovers from the court’s decision, until it can be refocused into a steely determination to take matters into her own hands. All of this is portrayed by Kruger in a career-best performance, as she plumbs the depths of Katja’s misery in a way that is both urgent and persuasive.

However, without Kruger’s passionate and powerful performance, In the Fade isn’t quite as well constructed or purposeful as it might seem. Akin is a fiercely political movie maker, and his movies are often full of political statements, but here the message isn’t as clear cut or as concisely made as they would be normally. True, he takes potshots at the perceived indolence of the German authorities in reining in the activities of Neo-Nazi groups in modern day Deutschland, and the endemic racism of a police force that would rather focus on the criminal past of a bombing victim than catching the actual bombers, but these don’t have the impact that would make viewers become as outraged as Katja does. The movie is at its best in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, when the only point it wants to make is about the unbearable weight that grief can impose on a person, and then during the courtroom scenes, the inexorable turning of the tide of guilt is played out with a grim fascination that is horrifying, albeit in a different way. But the post-trial scenes – set in Greece, and providing a beautiful contrast to the constantly overcast, rainy environs of Hamburg – prove to be something of a let-down, and the momentum the movie has built up until then is squandered by poor narrative choices and giving Katja unconvincing motivations for her actions. It’s another movie whose ending undermines the good work that’s gone before, and for some viewers, being denied their own catharsis may prove a deal breaker all by itself.

Rating: 7/10 – with an unsettling score courtesy of Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, and good supporting turns from Krisch and Tukur (as the father of one of the bombers), In the Fade is an urgent, often uncompromising thriller that’s let down by some flaccid plotting and a final section that is more frustrating than rewarding; Kruger is excellent in only her first German-speaking lead role, and there’s a sparseness to the production design that plays well with the rigour of Kruger’s tightly wound presence, but all in all this doesn’t succeed as a whole but is instead an exercise in (unfulfilled) anticipation.

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